"Whites of Their Eyes" (released on Burger Records) is an intense mix of rock n roll, folk, and country. It's punky attitude blends wonderfully with Mattiel's vehement, folk influenced voice. Based in Atlanta Georgia, Mattiel's music is original, passionate, and keen as she exudes the demeanor of powerful female musicians who have risen before her. Her aesthetic is reminiscent of Patti Smith with long messy black hair and androgynous style. Her dark brown eyes are intense as she fearlessly stares down the camera in her self produced and designed music video. "Whites of their Eyes" one of the best underground singles of this year by combining the ardent nature of punk and rock n roll, and the clever, frank songwriting of folk and country. I spoke with Mattiel about writing "Whites of their Eyes," the making of the music video, and the advatages of being a female in the music industry.
Are you originally from Atlanta, GA? How did growing up there affect your writing and style?
I was born in Atlanta but grew up about an hour south of the city in a rural town called Brooks, GA. My mother bought a 5-acre farm there when I was about a year old, and that's where I grew up.
I believe my time there was psychologically beneficial due to the fact that I was an only child with plenty of space to develop a strong sense of identity. I had very few distractions.
How does having a background in design affect your approach towards music?
When I'm putting together any visual composition, whether it's typography, a photograph, or an illustration, I start with a lot of experimentation. There's a lot of "pulling things out of thin air" to see what works and what doesn't. It also helps to have some limitations to work within. My bandmates, Jonah and Randy, essentially write a musical design system for me to experiment with vocally. After enough experimentation with words, timing, and melody, I will hopefully end up with a great track. It's also important to know when to stop and say, "Ok, this is finished. This is where I draw my own line in the sand." It's the same with any visual arts because it's easy to take something too far.
How involved were you in the direction and creation of the music video for "Whites of their Eyes?" Could you tell me more about it and why you chose the recurring color of red?
The crew on the "Whites of their Eyes" video consisted of me, my friend Jason Travis, and a very cooperative horse named Webster. Jason and I had worked together for several years on a design team in Atlanta. We made print ads and videos, so we are very familiar with each others' creative process. And we have a knack for making things look high budget.
I chose my outfits and styling, etc and planned some of the shots. I bought the fireworks and planned that shot, had the idea to be pelted with eggs, and I bought a red suit. I thought the bright red would make for a really nice contrast against the muted tones of the desert. I also planned and coordinated the horse rental in Morongo Valley, CA. In many ways, I took on the role of a producer. Jason planned the mirror shots, the crystal ball shots, and the red paper backdrop shots among many others. We shot so much footage, so his editing skills also came in handy later on. It was one of the best collaborations we've ever done.
The shots of yourself on the horse in the video are amazing. Do you have an equestrian background?
I do, although I was never an avid rider. My mother has always had horses on the farm, so I began learning to ride Western style when I was about seven years old. This was, however, the first time I stood on a horse. Webster was very well-trained. (Insert "do not try this at home" warning)
What inspired you to write "Whites of their Eyes?”
Randy and Jonah presented the music to me and it felt like a soundtrack to a battle scene because it sounded very cinematic. I remembered a quote from William Prescott during the Battle of Bunker Hill - "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes." In some ways, the song issues a warning to be aware of one's surroundings and even evokes some paranoia and anxiety. Anyone who's had to walk through an empty parking lot at night in Atlanta will know exactly what I mean. Aside from these darker aspects, I find it a very exciting, fun, and energetic song.
How long have you been playing music and what inspired you to start writing your own songs?
I've always had the urge to sing, and my mother tells me that I sang a lot as a child. I didn't start taking it seriously until I was a teenager though, and I was very shy about it. It took a lot of courage to sing in front of Randy and Jonah for the first time. We've been working together for about 3 years.
Who are some artists that you would say influence and inspire your music?
As far as poetry and writing, I'm influenced (in no particular order) by Donovan, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Vashti Bunyan, Peter Paul and Mary, Jack White, Andre 3000, Weyes Blood, Kendrick Lamar... I mean, the list goes on. I enjoy clever, unexpected songwriting.
Have you faced any obstacles navigating the music industry because you are female?
Fortunately, no. In fact, I find I have a lot of advantages as a female in the current cultural climate. I think society is more ready than ever to hear and see female performers, writers, and artists. People have been a lot more receptive to my music than I initially expected, and I've noticed that an overwhelming amount of men have bought my record. I've also been told that my demeanor is intimidating, so maybe that helps.
What is some advice you would give to other singer songwriters?
Be yourself. Challenge yourself. Isolate yourself. Don't write the music for anyone but yourself.
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